When Zsofia Pasztor first toured the Lloyd Family Farmstead near Maltby last November, she fell in love.
Pasztor is the founder of Farmer Frog, a nonprofit that builds sustainable community gardens in schools and other locations in an effort to provide equal access to healthy, nutritious, safe and affordable food while protecting natural ecosystems and wildlife habitats. The organization has gardens in more than a dozen schools, and Pasztor has been looking for a location for a headquarters to expand the programs they offer to people outside of the school system.
Then she got a call from Snohomish County Parks & Recreation, who were aware of her hunt for a headquarters site in Snohomish County, because she’d submitted a previous proposal. The land in question was a 30-acre homestead that sits in the middle of 793 acres of forest. The homestead was settled by the Lloyd family in 1887 when they emigrated from Wales, and three of the siblings lived into their 90s there in the original cabin until their deaths.
In 2005, concerned that developers would destroy the land, they donated most of the forest to the county, and it became the Paradise Valley Conservation Area. They sold the homestead for $3 million to the county, setting up a trust that allowed them to keep living there until their deaths, and included restrictions requiring the land continue to serve an agricultural purpose. The house and its 30 acres are still closed to the public. Restrictions were negotiated by the Lloyds “to ensure that the Lloyd Family Farmstead property be retained forever in its open space and historical condition and to prevent any use of the property that will significantly impair or interfere with the open space, wildlife habitat, and historical values of the property.”
Pasztor put in a proposal that she says “included everything and the kitchen sink . . . and the chicken sink!” and Farmer Frog was granted a temporary use permit while the contract is being looked over by attorneys.
“It will be long-term eventually, when the contract is finished by all the attorneys and looked over, and then the council will vote on it,” she says. But as she walks me around and explains a restored wetland here, a rebuilt woodshed there, you can sense she has a vision she’s itching to complete.
“I don’t want to take down a building and build something new, she says. “I want to rebuild the old historical buildings, and preserve what the family had here, so people can come and enjoy it and see how it used to be, and honor the fact that this family came here so long ago and took care of this land, and were really good stewards, and then provided this land back to the community – it’s just magical.”
Pasztor and her husband, Zsolt, immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 and started a landscaping business called Frog on a Log. But thanks to the financial collapse of 2008, the jobs dried up and they lost the company to bankruptcy in 2009. “When we lost it, we really had an identity crisis,” she says.
As luck would have it, inspiration was nearby. Three driveways down from the Pasztor’s house, in the parking lot of Olivia Park Elementary School in Everett where all their children were students, a homeless family camp emerged. Pasztor learned they were camping there because they felt safe due to the lighting and the proximity to other families in the same situation. Still, food was an issue for them, along with many of the school’s students.
“So we asked if we could start a veggie garden so they could eat,” she says. After obtaining permission, she helped round up volunteers who cleaned up some unused land and planted a garden with an orchard, berry patches and more than 34 garden beds. It quickly began feeding hundreds of families per year. “I couldn’t keep up,” Pasztor says. “I struggled with how to do this.”
Then someone told her about Will Allen coming to Seattle for a speaking engagement. Allen, a retired basketball player, heads a non-profit called Growing Power which assists communities with growing healthy food in a sustainable manner. “I arranged a 20-minute meeting,” Pasztor says, “and that stretched into 2-1/2 hours.” She ended up taking training Allen offers in Milwaukee on how to develop and maintain a sustainable community food system. And that’s how Farmer Frog was born.
So when she looks back on losing Frog on a Log now, does it seem like serendipity? “The passion we have for this,” she says, gesturing toward the farmstead and forest, “We would never have been able to do this if we had Frog on a Log. It’s a blessing. Sometimes you have to be tossed out of a boat to really start swimming.”